Why Identity Politics is Flawed

February 20, 2017



President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on seven Middle Eastern, Muslim-majority countries has sparked bitter protests across the nation—and by across the nation, I mean in concentrated urban areas, likely far from the homes of any (open) Trump supporters. This uproar over Trump’s executive order has demonstrated why the system of identity politics is fundamentally flawed. As always, there is potentially an underlying ideological cause: specifically, the cruelly and detrimentally simplistic lens through which many adherents of identity politics view the world.


          Those older and wiser than I may remember the tired slogan: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, man” (Musician lingo mine). Eldridge Cleaver’s worn-out battle cry remains, although it’s shaved its beard and adopted skinny jeans. The cut-and-dried way of viewing American society as a collection of culturally sparring demographic factions is still perpetuated. Through the lens of identity politics, a person’s actions and arguments matter far less than their perceived identity—not their self-created identity, mind you, but a farrago of race, gender, income, level of education, and location. From there, adherents to identity politics increasingly organize the people, issues, and events of the world into two categories: Hate and Not Hate.


          Take, for example, Sally Boynton Brown, Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director, who contends that her job is to "shut other white people down when they want to say ‘Oh no I’m not prejudiced, I’m a Democrat, I’m accepting.” The message, which really began in the wonderland of academia and has since spread to the Democratic party at large, is simple: your exterior qualities take precedence over your beliefs. If you’re white, in a quasi-Calvinist style, you are predestined for the “hate” box unless you renounce or deconstruct your whiteness in a desperate effort to scramble into the “not-hate” box, even if you are not consciously racist.


          It does not matter that Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders spout the same Luddite nonsense on international trade, have similar attitudes on the role and scope of government, and are philosophically Democrats at heart. Trump goes in the “hate” box, Sanders goes in the “not-hate” box, and never the twain shall meet. In the end, Trump is a Republican, which—more than any other quality—reserves him a special seat in the “hate” box. What a person stands for is irrelevant compared to his or her identity.


 This brings us to the executive order regarding immigration from certain countries in the Middle East. It would be unfair of me to reduce mainstream progressive opinion to the most ludicrous displays of linking together distant demographic groups for no better reason than that they vote Democrat. By no means do I intend to ignore the few policy-based, clear-minded arguments which emerge from the sea of chanting protesters. The issue that I’d like to address is that even these arguments, judging by their painful sequestration from reality, draw their offense from ideology first and facts second.


          Firstly, there’s the position held by the likes of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that Trump’s executive order is far outside the norm, trampling American foreign policy precedent. Specifically, the order temporarily halts refugee admissions for 120 days and caps future refugee admissions to 50,000 a year. However, as National Review’s David French points out, the 50,000 cap finds itself closer to the average refugee admission numbers experienced in the 15 years before the influx Obama allowed in 2016. On balance, the expansion of refugee admittance in 2016 is a far more unusual outlier than the slight decrease caused by Trump’s executive order.


          Secondly, there’s the popular argument that the executive order intentionally excludes countries that Trump has done business with. However, the order only broadens existing security measures put into place by the Obama administration in 2015. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Syria were already rightly under scrutiny as nests for foreign terrorist fighters. Trump’s order expands upon these existing restrictions, banning all citizens from those seven countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days and requiring green card holders to be rescreened after visiting those countries. Additionally, are we to believe that Democrats would prefer to expand the ban to Saudi Arabia or the U.A.E., countries where Donald Trump has conducted business before? If those who oppose the executive order argue that those countries should be included, I would agree and hope that they will be addressed soon.


          A third argument circulating on Forbes, The Independent and other publications is that the “‘Muslim ban’ will only make terrorist attacks more, not less likely” (remember learning in the 8th grade how quotation marks enclose direct quotations and also excuse misleading headlines? Could I get away with titling this as ‘A Good Article’)? Drawing on the popular notion that the War on Terror strengthened its enemies, the Zarifs and Cockburns of the politisphere argue that a Muslim Ban will enrage terrorist groups and swell their ranks, because like a schoolyard bully they only want an angry response. A myriad of articles could be penned on the irony of Westerners enduring attack after attack only to claim that the very terrorists who are killing them somehow enjoy being struck; that’s a topic for another day. For now, it suffices to point out that a temporary ban on specific countries can in no way be compared to the invasion of Iraq. More concretely, statistics show that terrorist acts increased in frequency and lethality over the course of Obama’s time. Did Obama take a hard line against radical Islamic terror? Hardly.


          The same could be said of Europe, which recently passed a historic tipping point: since 2001, radical Islamist terror has surpassed Chechnyan terror in the amount of European lives it has taken—specifically, 895 have died due to radical Islamist attacks out of over 2200 deaths caused by terrorism in Europe since 2001. Europe has been nothing but kind to Muslims from all strata, whether they be Syrian refugees or simple immigrants or first-generation Europeans of Middle Eastern descent. The issue is not governments being kind or unkind to Muslims, nor is it that Muslims are an inherent source of terror; both positions mistakenly frame the problem of terrorism into one that springs from Muslims in general. Progressives admirably denounce this mistake in the prejudice of bigots who hold the latter view—that Muslims are an inherent source of terror—and are correct to do so; however, they understandably but unfortunately fail to understand that the former view—that societal unkindness provokes Muslims to rage—makes the same mistake, even though it is more sympathetic to Islam.


            In the absence of factual basis for the few ostensibly sensible arguments against Trump’s executive order, it is not unreasonable to conclude that many of those who so vehemently disagree with the executive order simply disagree because it comes from Trump. Almost identical comparisons can—and have—been drawn between Trump’s order and similar laws under Obama mere years ago, laws which were not met with such vitriol. However, Obama is not an entity of “hate.” Trump’s Democratic history, his stances on gay marriage and abortion (from the exciting forgotten world beyond ten minutes ago), and his economic and governmental beliefs all measure up to naught next to that “R.” after his name. The refugee crisis has greater complexity than identity politics can allow; just as it is correct and necessary to explain that not all Muslims are linked to terror, it is just as prescient to note that not all refugees are wounded children just waiting to become citizens. Pointing out the readily visible effects of a porous border should not be viewed as a politicized statement. I would urge those who admirably celebrate diversity of identity to consider the complexity and substance of individual opinion first.




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